One trainer swept Gulfstream Park’s inaugural turf stakes for two-year-olds with designs on Royal Ascot, but it wasn’t Wesley Ward. George Weaver won both, taking Saturday’s $100,000 Royal Palm Juvenile with first-time starter No Nay Mets and adding the fillies’ counterpart courtesy of Crimson Advocate.
Each winner secured entry in a juvenile stakes during the June 20-24 Royal meeting as well as a $25,000 equine travel stipend to England. Weaver will need time to choose their respective targets in Berkshire.
“I always said after I went to Ascot the first time it would be nice to go back with someone who has a chance to win, and both of these horses look like they do,” the winning trainer said. “They have that early speed. I do need to look at the menu before picking out a race, although I’d like to keep both of them at five-eighths if we can.”
No Nay Mets has two options at that trip, the Norfolk (G2) and Windsor Castle S., while Crimson Advocate has a third possibility in the Queen Mary (G2) for fillies.
Royal Palm Juvenile
An Irish-bred son of No Nay Never, himself a Ward star at Royal Ascot in the 2013 Norfolk, No Nay Mets races for the Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman. The third baseman picked up the Coolmore-bred blueblood, in the name of his Bregman Family Racing, for €180,000 as an Arqana August yearling.
The bay just went through the sales ring again at OBS April, where he RNA’d for $335,000. But No Nay Mets had shown plenty of dash at the under tack show, firing a bullet quarter-mile in :20 4/5 during his session. The graduate of Ciaran Dunne’s Wavertree Stables put that speed to work right from the gate on Saturday as a 10.80-1 overlay.
Ward’s entrant, Holding the Line, ranked as the 4-5 favorite in his unveiling. The dream was that he could bring his owner, retired riding legend Steve Cauthen, back to Royal Ascot. But those hopes evaporated early when Holding the Line was outpaced in fourth, and he ultimately dropped further back.
In contrast, No Nay Mets was quickest to grab a slim lead through an opening quarter in :21.96. The attending Mattingly couldn’t maintain his close position turning for home, and No Nay Mets drew off by 3 1/2 lengths. Under Luca Panici, No Nay Mets clocked the half-mile in :45.44 and completed five furlongs in :57.50.
Mattingly was second-best, rounding out the baseball-themed exacta. Zaino rallied for third, overtaking Weaver’s better-fancied Blast Furnace by a half-length. Next came Northshore Drive, Praiseworthy, Holding the Line, Tiberian Sun, Reaper, and the tailed-off Shotgun Pro, who was never involved after a slow start.
No Nay Mets, who paid $23.40, opened his account with $58,900.
“It was kind of a crunched schedule to get him here,” Weaver said, referring to the turnaround from OBS April. “He was fit. It was just a matter of letting him spin his legs a couple of times.”
No Nay Mets is the first foal from Etoile, who won her career debut in the 2019 Naas Fillies’ Sprint (G3). The daughter of War Front was not seen again until the fall of her juvenile season. She raced only twice more, finishing unplaced in the Cheveley Park (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).
Etoile is a full sister to French Group 3 scorer and multiple Group 1-placed Ancient Rome. Their dam, multiple Group 3 vixen Gagnoa, placed in the 2008 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1), Prix Saint-Alary (G1), and Irish Oaks (G1).
Gagnoa, by Sadler’s Wells and out of the Darshaan mare Gwynn, is a three-quarter sister to 2011 Derby (G1) hero Pour Moi (by Montjeu); Group 3 scorer Dawn Patrol (by Galileo), who placed in the Irish Derby (G1); and White Hot (by Galileo), dam of 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Pizza Bianca.
Royal Palm Juvenile Fillies
In the companion $100,000 Royal Palm Juvenile Fillies, Ward again sent out the beaten favorite, but his 4-5 Ocean Mermaid performed much better in second at every call. The Stonestreet Stables debutante couldn’t match the speed of Crimson Advocate, the 3.70-1 second choice.
Adding blinkers following a debut fourth on the Keeneland main track, the Nyquist filly responded to post faster times than stablemate No Nay Mets did in the Royal Palm Juvenile. Crimson Advocate blasted through splits of :21.83 and :44.42 and polished off five furlongs in :56.25, a full 1.25 seconds better than the preceding stakes. Her winning margin was the same, 3 1/2 lengths, with Edwin Gonzalez aboard.
Ocean Mermaid, bred to get a lot further as a daughter of Kingman and a Frankel mare, did well to finish second by 5 3/4 lengths. A sprint down the Ascot straightaway would likely play to her strengths, so Ward and the Stonestreet brain trust may still want to pursue the venture.
The Myth got up for third, a half-length to the good of the dead-heating pair of Turf Rocket and My Sweetheart Dani. Kiss checked in sixth, followed by Bucchera, She Has Class, Scootaloo, Fumblerooskie, and the tailed-off Girvin Star.
Owned by R.A. Hill Stable, Swinbank Stables, Black Type Thoroughbreds, RAP Racing, Chris Mara, BlackRidge Stables, and Amy Dunne, Crimson Advocate has earned $65,580 from her 2-1-0-1 line. The chestnut initially raced in the colors of Dew Sweepers, which purchased her for $100,000 as an OBS yearling.
“We really liked her going into the race up there,” Weaver said of her Keeneland debut. “I expected her to be on the lead or close to it, but she was green.”
Crimson Advocate was bred by Whitehall Lane Farm in Kentucky. Her dam, multiple stakes scorer and Grade 3-placed Citizen Advocate, is a Proud Citizen mare from the immediate family of champion Caledonia Road and Wood Memorial (G2) winner Lord Miles.
Weaver recognized the accomplishment of toppling a couple of Ward hotpots.
“You’re always worried about Wesley,” Weaver said. “He’s a master of doing this and going to Ascot. You just got to have the right horses. Both my horses broke running and got the advantage right away, followed through, and looked good doing it.”